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Sailing our way to Talcahuano

A short stop at Ancud. Farewell to the Chilean Pilots. Blue whales at Golfo de Coronados  

Wind and seas have been abating since last afternoon. After a couple of days of sailing at speeds between 9 and 10kn in moderate to rough seas, now became a gentle downwind sailing over calming waters. 

Night and early morning go by, trying to hold up the sails for as long as possible, keeping an eye on our speed and how fast we need to sail to make it to Ancud Pilot Station at noon, the agreed time. 

At dawn, the contours of land can be seen on Starboard side, while on deck some more canvas is hoisted and the rig trimmed to keep a bit of speed and a good course towards the town. 

Now Ancud is in sight, bordered by forested high coasts, sloping down to the shore between small cliffs. Located in the northernmost part of Chiloe and founded in 1768, is the second largest city of the Island Archipelago after Castro.  

Founded as a bulwark against foreign powers in colonial times, the city also played an important role in the Chilean colonization of Patagonia in the 19th century. Here as well is where the final battle that put an end to the Spanish dominion of South America was fought. From this very same port, on the 22nd of May 1843, the schooner with the same name as the town was sent southwards on an expedition to claim Chilean sovereignty over the Strait of Magellan, under the command of Captain John Williams. Of her 23 crew members, about half would stay in the Magallanes Region with the mission of establishing a permanent outpost. They settled down and called the spot Fuerte Bulnes, with not much luck, and the enterprise ended up having to move 30 miles northwards where nowadays is Punta Arenas. 

For us, just a short sailing visit. And sail we did, taking advantage of the fair breeze, Europa sailed all the way to the place where a boat was sent to pick up the Pilots. From now on pilotage is not mandatory along the Chilean offshore waters. The sailing morning involved bracing several times and even tacking the ship, turning around passing the bow through the wind in the middle of the Canal Chacao, which separates Chiloe from the mainland northward, and joins Golfo de los Coronados with Golfo de Ancud. 

After the manoeuvre it was time to speed up a bit, getting out of the area, as this channel is well known for its dangerous currents. The entrance and departure from town have to be closely adjusted with the incoming or outgoing tides, here currents can run from 2 to 9kn with barely any slack water between tides, depending on where in the waterway you are located and the moon phase.  

When the Europa ventures again into the open ocean, leaving behind the northern coast of Chiloe and the shallow waters give way to the beginning of the slope to deeper ones just in the Golfo de Coronados, we didn’t have to wait long until a few whale blows were spotted. Some of them soon prove to be the largest animals ever to inhabit the earth, measuring up to a maximum of 35 meters in length and weighing around 100 tons. The Blue whale. 

In rapid succession, the sails are doused in the light breeze and like that, with increased manoeuvrability, we can steer trying to get to the area where most of the animals are. Humpback whales also seem to like the area, but Fin whales are also around. Definitely a rich oceanic area for them to feed. Here, the steep change in depth combined with the southern edge of the Humboldt Current, with its northward flow, produce an upwelling of deep and nutrient rich waters. 

Numerous blows are all around, but certainly the jewel of the crown among them are the Blue whale ones, the tallest and largest of them all. Their long backs, light and dark grey patterned, show up topped close to the tail with a relatively tiny dorsal fin. Even some of them display their flukes too at the starts of their dives. 

Kelp gulls; Giant, White-chinned and Storm petrels; Sooty and Pink-footed shearwaters; Black-browed and Wandering albatross, they all show up too.  

Over an hour passed before we resume our way north, lucky as we have been to spot so many of those rare and magnetic animals. The light airs made for the engines push us ahead, but still the canvas is unfurled and ready to be set in case there’s wind enough once more. 

Geschreven door:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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